Bass Without Borders
In 2013, Jen embarked on a year’s mentoring with the world renowned double bassist, Danny Thompson (pictured above with his beloved bass, Victoria). Supported by Creative Scotland’s ‘Advance Mentoring Scheme’, which is aimed at mid-career musicians, the idea was to work with Danny to explore the use of the double bass in Scottish traditional music, and taking it to ‘new places’ within the genre. Jen was planning a move to the Isle of Eigg, where her musical diet was to change from ‘cross-genre’ (folk, jazz, bluegrass, rockabilly, classical, klezmer and lots of singer songwriters) to very much focused in contemporary Scottish traditional music, and she was full of ideas, some of which were coming into being through her work with the band Damian Helliwell’s Metta… but she knew there was more to be discovered!
As the ‘cross-border’ champion of the double bass in traditional music, Danny’s worked with some of the UK’s most celebrated folk musicians – from Martin Carthy to Bert Jansch, The Pentangle to Julie Fowlis, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Martin Simpson, the list goes on, and on and on… A regular with the Transatlantic Sessions, which brings together musicians from Scotland, Ireland and the USA, and now touring with the likes of BlueRoseCode and Sean Taylor, Danny has been providing the grooves for folk musicians for nigh on 60 years!
Since October 2013, Jen and Danny have been meeting up to play, explore new approaches, work-up arrangements and two part pieces, to talk about music and to make music. They’ve explored ‘licks and tricks’, working with traditional tunes, talked about tone and texture (where the bass ‘fits’, and how to make it speak within a sometimes busy texture, the call-and-response style of playing that is one of Dan’s signatures, along with the contrapuntal approach Jen tends towards), and they’ve collaborated with Neil McArthur and Rory Butler, to ‘put into practice’ some of the ideas talked about.
Next up is to work towards a recording, with a very exciting (potential) gang of collaborators… more on this to follow!
Needless to say, it’s made all the difference to Jen’s life… Danny’s almost spiritual relationship with the double bass and music-making as a whole, his years of experience and insight into the scene, and his down-to-earth ‘real’ observations have made this incredible musical experience even more joyful. She thinks her playing has changed – it’s certainly helped in terms of confidence, ‘bite’ on the front of her notes, drive to experiment whilst ‘respecting the tune’, and the ‘statement’ style of playing she was wanting to move towards. And it’s given priority to practice, in a way that musicians rarely get the opportunity to do – we spend a lot of time practising for gigs – but not playing for playing’s sake, when the focus is on ‘playing to live’. This collaboration has been, in all ways, the stuff dreams are made of!
And he’s a good ol’ working class boy who even has his bass strings wound in the colours of his beloved Chelsea football team, which is where they differ. Jen was born in Highbury. But they don’t let the Arsenal grind them down. And Danny seems to be enjoying it too:
“I received a great cheer-up, fine Bass player with time, tone and intonation and honest enthusiasm all in one. Jenny Hill is the name and she reminds me of why I do it and love it.”
Danny Thompson, March 2014